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This review highlights recent work using advanced imaging approaches that have improved our understanding of the underlying neural mechanisms associated with disrupted brain development or demonstrated the potential of MRI to provide objective biomarkers of cerebral injury that relate to subsequent neurodevelopmental performance.Preterm birth impacts on the development of thalamocortical connections to inferior frontal and medial temporal cortex, and cingulate gyri. Impairments to cortical development in these regions are evident in early adulthood and associated with lower intelligence quotient scores. Disruptions to microstructural development of cortical gray matter are prevalent in survivors of preterm birth and related to immaturity at birth, postnatal growth and neurodevelopmental performance. Brain dysmaturation is also evident in infants with congenital heart disease and is detectable prior to surgery, highlighting the influence of adverse conditions on in-utero brain development. In infants with hypoxic–ischemic encephalopathy who have undergone therapeutic hypothermia, quantitative magnetic resonance measures in the neonatal period are related to performance at 2 years.Advanced MRI approaches offer the opportunity to assess objectively brain structure and function, and a number of studies, spanning different patient groups, demonstrate their utility as early biomarkers of altered neurological outcome.